Fashion has seen a significant level of innovation in the past few years.
Crowdsourced design began with t-shirt company Threadless, but progressed to mainstream brands such as Nike. Wearable technology continues to progress at pace with fabrics capable of monitoring everything from sports performance to cardiac health and dehydration levels. You’ve also seen considerable process innovation, with Spanish brand Zara leading the way in so called fast fashion.
It is in this context that David Lauren became the Chief Innovation Officer at Ralph Lauren in 2016.
Many had expected David, who was previously the VP Marketing, Advertising and Corporate Communications, to succeed father Ralph after he stepped down as CEO after five decades at the helm. But with David’s passion for technology, CINO made more sense.
Retail is a sector on the move, with numerous technological innovations re-shaping both the products we buy and the ways we buy them. Disruption has taken down some industry giants such as Toys “R” Us and Quiksilver, but it has also allowed the industry to seriously address many of the pain points customers feel.
Making Retail Better
David Lauren believes that innovation will be key to the success of the company in the future. Industry changes have prompted Ralph Lauren to close 25% of its brick-and-mortar stores and attempt to reinvent the retail experience it provides to customers.
But Ralph Lauren is not the only retail giant making changes. Here are just a few of the consumer pain points that are being tackled in the industry today:
No consumer likes to stand in line when they are trying to purchase something, so retailers are equipping sales assistants with devices to allow them to take payments from anywhere in the shop. It’s prompting retailers to rethink the design of their stores, with innovations like the Amazon Go store one of the most notable examples.
Not being able to find what you want
The frustrating experience of going to a store and not being able to find what you’re looking for is all too common. Technology solutions are helping retailers better understand the stock they have. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) helps retailers manage their inventory better, while smart shelving is another interesting innovation that allows stock levels to be managed more effectively.
Lugging heavy bags around with you is no one’s idea of fun, but a number of retailers are experimenting with hands-free shopping. The startup Dropit has partnered with a number of large retailers in London to allow shoppers to drop their items off at any of the partner stores, continue their shopping and have all of their items grouped together and delivered to their home in one go.
How Having A CINO is Already Impacting Ralph Lauren
David Lauren’s role as Chief Innovation Officer will allow him to unify the various innovations the company is already working on, from wearable tech to interactive digital content on the company website.
For instance, they have already launched a PoloTech smart shirt that is embedded with sensors to detect vital signs like breathing and heart rates, stress levels and calories burned. Furthermore, they were pioneers in the luxury customization market, giving customers the option to select from various embroidery options or add patches to a range of apparel. Lauren believes that this service will eventually be offered in all Ralph Lauren stores.
But with innovation and technology becoming a more substantial part of the Ralph Lauren brand, who knows how that will come to fruition and how they will revolutionize the retail customer experience next.
The Future of Retail
To stay in the game, fashion enterprises need to adopt new technologies to continuously improve the retail experience for their customers. It’s the kind of strategy highlighted by a recent PwC report exploring future trends for the retail sector and how leaders can adapt.
The report outlined six strategies retailers could deploy to ride the waves of disruption affecting the retail sector today.
Shoppers increasingly value things like speed, variety and convenience, but price remains crucial for many. Being able to dynamically price goods will allow these various customer needs to be met.Walmart, for example, can use the sophisticated software of recently acquired Jet.com to make real-time price adjustments based on factors like customer loyalty, shipping costs and inventory changes.
Focus on brand loyalty
Retailers that invest heavily in cultivating brand loyalty will thrive. While this is hard to achieve, return customers bring more value to the company than one-time customers. The kind of personalization and unique value Ralph Lauren offers through innovation is a key part of creating long-term customer relationships.
Last-mile delivery remains a challenge for many retailers, but there is considerable experimentation in providing the kind of rapid delivery so many customers crave today. While 70% of customers prefer at-home delivery, click-and-collect options like curbside delivery and third party site pick-up are gaining momentum. These services require complex systems and innovative technologies to keep them running smoothly.
We’ve seen the likes of Amazon Go pioneer frictionless shopping, but in fashion the value provided by knowledgeable sales staff is hard to beat. Indeed, PwC found this is the number-one requirement of shoppers in in-store environments. So retailers are left asking, how can software solutions help them incorporate helpful and personalized knowledge at every touchpoint.
A seamless digital experience is critical for today’s customers, which means retail giants need a thorough and overarching digital strategy, not ad hoc point-in-time initiatives.
The retail sector has seen considerable amounts of innovation in the past few years, but this pace of change is only going to quicken. It will require retailers to undertake continuous experimentation and rapid adaptation to stay (at least) one step ahead. Market leaders are experimenting with a range of innovations to make the shopping experience simple, convenient, personal and engaging.
By creating such a high-profile presence for innovation in the boardroom, Ralph Lauren is making an effort to be at the vanguard of change in the retail sector. Time will tell how effective they prove to be.